Those who doubt that Israel is a normal country--along with everything that makes it abnormal--only have had to look and listen to the Hebrew media over the most recent few days. The bulk of the print and noise has not concerned Iran or Palestine, but a famous singer, his middle age relatives and friends, and the underage girls who provided their entertainment.
There is also a story about a rabbi and a mafia boss, but first the singer and sex.
The police and courts imposed a ban on publishing names. However, reporters of prime time radio and TV, and the newspapers that refrain from breaking the rules have indicated that the Internet provides what "everyone already knows." Right they are. It took less than a minute to find the name of a singer that I recognized, but is not among the stars of the 1960s and 1970s, mixed with classical music, that fill my cellphone and provide entertainment on daily walks.
The police report that they have had suspicions and have been collecting details for some months, but it took a news story mentioning "a famous singer" to send it viral.
The initial item was about a 15 year old music groupie. It came along with details about Israeli law dealing with sex and young girls. Less than 14 is rape in all cases, with or without consent. The 15-18 range is problematic, with any element of exploitation producing the lesser crime of having sex with a minor. Among the kinds of exploitation that might convince a judge is the prospect of associating with a famous entertainer.
As the story has matured, the police have retreated from their focus on the singer. It appears that the 15 year old who provided the juiciest testimony isn''t all that reliable. Her story changes, and some of it does not fit with details the police consider reliable.
Now the focus is on friends and relatives of the singer, who appear in pictures--with faces blocked out--showing plump middle age men with their hands on scantily clad young women. Reports mix drugs with sex, payments to the girls, inviting friends to the parties, and the weightier charge of luring youngsters into prostitution.
The story has been more prominent in the Hebrew media read by the locals than in the English stuff meant primarily for tourists and overseas.
Remember the comment of David ben Gurion, already anachronistic when he said it, that Israel would become a normal country when Jews became thieves and prostitutes.
The country''s fascination with the low life goes beyond the behavior of one popular entertainer and his entourage. The bulk of what gets high ratings on television looks pretty much like what is popular elsewhere. Reality shows that follow "normal people" in settings contrived to be difficult, popular music, comedy, sport, along with the spectacularly scuzzy stuff headlined when available. Reports go on for days with the smallest and most salacious details, usually attributed to unnamed sources.
Only a bit lower in current media attention is a rabbi accused by the police of working along with the head of a crime syndicate, using extortion and other unlawful threats to influence the outcome of the local election in the Negev town of Netivot. Its population close to 30,000 is made up largely of second and third generation offspring of North African immigrants who came in the 1950s, i.e., those who have not made it out to better opportunities elsewhere. Many of the residents are religious or traditional, and several rabbis have done well in attracting followers and donations from Netivot and elsewhere on the basis of personal charisma and the more mystical elements of Judaism. Two of the rabbis supported competing candidates in the municipal election. The rabbi said to have crossed the line into criminality was put under house arrest, with followers and students of his yeshiva closing key streets with demonstrations in behalf of their holy man.
Sex, popular music, money, charismatic rabbis and organized crime are as much Israel''s reality as being in the focus of international condemnation, praise, and just plain interest, along with being a world leader in the incidence of its population that has served in defense and died on account of warfare or terrorism. Whether on the side of normality or abnormality is the maintenance of a lively democracy with a decent record of human rights despite the pressures of security, and the increase in its population by more than ten times since 1948, with almost all the migrants coming from countries where they had no opportunity to learn about democracy or human rights.